Game Corner: Battletoads (2020; Xbox One)

Released: 20 August 2020
Developers: Dlala Studios and Rare
Also Available For: PC and Xbox One X

The Background:
Make no mistake about it, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) were hot shit back in the day; though the TMNT first began life as a ridiculous, dark, and gritty comic book, they shot to fame and into the cultural consciousness with the 1987 cartoon series and a line of action figures and the franchise was the hottest kids commodity at that time. That success also, inevitably, brought a slew of knock-offs and imitators, many of which, like the Battletoads, were reasonably popular in their own right.

After many decades in obscurity, the Battletoads finally returned to the spotlight!

Conceived of as a direct response to the TMNT, the Battletoads (Rash, Zitz, and Pimple) were space-faring adventurers who made their debut in the appropriately-titled Battletoads (Rare, 1991), a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up that is notorious for being one of the hardest titles in the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) library. Battletoads was fairly well received and a number of follow-ups were produced, including a pretty kick-ass arcade title in 1994, but the franchise quietly died off and remained dormant until Microsoft surprised everyone at the 2018 E3 with the announcement of an all-new entry in the beloved series. Perhaps bolstered by the reception of Rare Replay (ibid, 2015), Rare chose to revive their franchise as an Xbox One and PC exclusive, one not hampered by hardware restrictions, and effectively reintroduced the Battletoads to a whole new generation of gamers.

The Plot:
After being awoken from a fantasy simulation after twenty-six years, the Battletoads are dismayed to find that they are no longer intergalactic heroes. Seeking to reclaim their former glory, they set out to defeat their long-time nemesis, the Dark Queen, but end up joining forces with her to confront a greater threat, the evil alien race known as “Topians”.

Gameplay:
Like its predecessors, Battletoads is a 2D, sidescrolling beat-‘em-up in which up to three players can battle across numerous stages spread between four chapters (referred to as “Acts”). When you begin a new game, you can select from three different difficulty levels (“Tadpole” being the “Easy” mode, “Toad” normal, and “Battletoad” being the hardest). Once you’ve selected a difficulty, you’re locked in to it and will need to create a new, separate save file to play on one of the other modes but you can switch between these save files easily enough by pressing X on the main menu.

Each of the Battletoads handles a little differently, with different strengths and weaknesses.

There are three characters to pick from (Zitz, Rash, and Pimple) and, while each of the titular Battletoads controls the same, you’ll find that each one has their own strengths and weaknesses: Rash is the all-rounder, with decent speed and attack power; Zitz is the weakest but also the fastest, able to string combos together much quicker; and Pimple is the slowest but also the most powerful of the three. Unlike in the previous games, you can freely switch between any of the Battletoads on the fly by pressing left, up, or right on the directional-pad (D-pad) to “tag in”, allowing you to mix and match your attack strategies on the fly.

Team up with two friends to bring double the pain to your wacky enemies.

While there is no life system, this effectively gives you (in single player mode, at least) three lives since, if a Battletoad is defeated, you automatically switch to one of the other two and, after a short time, any toad that has been knocked out will regenerate a portion of their health and allow you to tag them back in. This adds another level of strategy to the game as you might want to favour Zitz for the majority of a stage and save Pimple for the boss battles but it’s important to not hog all the health-restoring flies for any one Battletoad as it could leave you at a disadvantage later down the line. Fortunately, the game is extremely generous with checkpoints, which refill and resurrect your team to full health, meaning you can easily jump right back into the action and you are even given the option of skipping ahead if you continuously die.

The Battletoads assume a variety of wild animations and forms when performing their attacks.

Being a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up, combat is obviously at the forefront of Battletoads’ gameplay; each character can unleash a quick combination of strikes with repeated presses of the X button, launch enemies into the air with Y, and charge up a powerful “Morph Attack” (which sees them transform into a variety of outlandish and amusing forms) by holding down the B button. You can also jump with A (revolutionary, I know), hold or press RT to run or evade, respectively, and hold down LT in conjunction with other button presses for different effects (press A and you’ll spit gum to render enemies immobile for a few seconds and press Y to pull enemies, flies, and collectables closer with your tongue). You can also wriggle the right analogue stick to perform a taunt, though I never discovered the point of this move beyond grandstanding.

Gameplay isn’t all punching as you’ll have to do some tricky platforming and puzzle solving, too.

While the majority of the game involves simple, arcade-style fighting, the monotony is broken up in a variety of ways; you can use LT and B to latch on to special hooks and battle in the background and foreground, for instance, and you’ll be required to press switches to open doors or raise and lower lifts at various points. You’ll also have to drag crates around to reach higher levels and use these techniques in lieu of your fighting abilities to solve various puzzles. In the game’s third Act, the Battletoads split up and Pimple is left to perform some rudimentary platforming, dodging spikes and other hazards, and climbing a mountain by pressing switches in the right order to clear a path. Similarly, when controlling the Dark Queen, you’re asked to run as quickly as possible through an all-too-familiar maze-like stage using her dash and unique ability to float to get past the many spiked hazards in your way rather than fighting.

Some doors require you to complete progressively difficult mini games.

You’ll also have to complete a couple of different mini games to open up electronic doors either by completing an electronic circuit or hacking your way. The first is relatively simple, involving the rotation of wires to allow a current to travel from one point to another but it gets a little trickier as you progress by introducing dead ends and different directions. The second is quite a unique little mini game that sees you moving an 8-bit Battletoads icon across a horizontal grid while avoiding moving red hazards; this can be tricky when playing with others as one touch of these hazards will reset the grid for all players but, if you struggle and fail enough times, the game gives you the option to automatically hack the door.

This was easily the hardest and most frustrating part of the game for me.

Other times, you’ll have to complete a number of quirky quick-time events (QTEs), the most prominent of which is an eccentric version of rock/paper/scissors, but you’ll also be completing menial tasks such as massages, sending e-mails, and signing autographs with rotations of the analogue sticks and repeated button presses. Later, you’ll need to use these skills as Pimple to fight off besmirched cult members and be sure to keep your wits about you after defeating the game’s final boss as you’ll need to perform a few QTEs before the battle is officially over. Some of the mini games, however, aren’t as much fun or easy to understand; at one point you have to complete three in a row with hardly any time to register what you actually have to do but by far the worst and most frustrating part of the game was when you have to reboot the systems of your space ship. The mini game displays a number of symbols, each one relating to a different mini game, and you have a very short space of time to find the game you need and complete it, all with the most vague of onscreen prompts to direct you. The worst part is that this section just keeps going and going, is very unforgiving, and it can be really difficult to see where you’re supposed to be looking as the mini games are all quite small by the end.

Gameplay has a surprising amount of variety and just the right amount of challenge.

Finally, gameplay is mixed up further by the return of the Turbo Tunnel, panic-inducing chase sequences, and some overhead shooting stages. Thankfully, the Turbo Tunnel is nowhere near as harrowing as in the NES game; for one thing, your view is from behind, which makes it much easier to see oncoming hazards. Each hit or mistake costs you a Battletoad but checkpoints are generous and, while it goes on for some time, it’s actually more exhilarating than frustrating. The Turbo Tunnel returns at the end of the game but, while it is harder, it’s a much shorter section; the spirit of the old tunnel is evoked in the sledging sequence, though, which has you holding X, Y, or B to grind along different platforms and that can be very difficult when you’re also required to jump with A. One of the most harrowing sequences from the NES game, the rat race, is recreated when you, as the Dark Queen, have to outrun falling stomach acid but, thanks to her dash and barge attacks and, again, many generous checkpoints, it’s nowhere near as impossible or demanding as the original game. Finally, the space shooting sections, while also a lot of fun, see the screen literally fill with enemy ships and projectiles to become one of the most elaborate “bullet hell” shooters I’ve ever played and these stages do tend to drag on a bit and are probably the most “unfair” of the game’s stages at times.

Graphics and Sound:
Battletoads is a fantastic throwback to a simpler time in gaming; like Streets of Rage 4 (Dotemu/Lizardcube/Guard Crush Games, 2020), the game favours brought, vibrant graphics and backgrounds and a rockin’ soundtrack that includes remixes of classic Battletoads tracks. Unlike that game, however, Battletoads is far more over the top and cartoony; the toads themselves are full of life and wacky antics and these is best seen through their zany attacks that see them growing comically enlarged feet, fists, or transforming into sharks, bulls, jackhammers, and even whipping out a Battletoads (Rare, 1994) arcade cabinet to damage enemies.

Stages and graphics are colourful, wacky, and wonderfully enlivened by a cartoony aesthetic.

Stages are varied and have a lot of depth, with some fun things to see in the background; you’ll travel through futuristic neon streets, a disused carnival, and wacky alien landscapes. Sadly, though, there is no “moving elevator” stage and there aren’t many chances to interact with your environment; there are no barrels to smash, no weapons to acquire, and your interactions are generally limited to activating switches or spitting bubblegum at various targets. Still, the simplicity of the interactivity in no way renders the environments lifeless or boring as they’re packed full of little details and things to see and distract you.

It’s a good job the story is so full of mapcap fun as it’s a surprisingly big part of the game.

Battletoads is very big on story and features a number of cutscenes and lots of voice acting; the titular heroes are pretty funny, being out of touch superheroes obsessed with becoming relevant in a world that has passed them by, and everyone has distinct and amusing personalities, from the exasperated Dark Queen to the flamboyant Tobians, Uto and Pia. While I enjoyed these cutscenes, which reminded me a lot of Rick and Morty (2013 to present) and were full of Rare’s signature, quirky sense of humour, it was a bit annoying that you aren’t always given the option of skipping them on subsequent playthroughs.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you make your way through the game’s stages, you’ll come up against a host of weird enemies; many of them, like the different coloured anthropomorphic rats, Topian cops, and disgruntled lumberjacks, are mostly disposable cannon fodder for you to go to town on. Some of their variants, though, will block your attacks with a guard or shield that can only be broken with your charged Morph attack, and will also toss projectiles your way. When in the space shooting sections, you’ll come up against a number of different ships, some which fill the screen with projectiles of all kinds that will truly test your reaction skills and patience.

You’ll need to properly strategise when many different enemies attack at once.

Other enemies can be a bit more troublesome: Kernel will charge up an electrical attack that electrifies nearby water and can cause massive damage; Fewcharge will unleash a laser beam that covers a large portion of the screen; and be sure to dash out of the way of Brucey when its about to charge at you. As you progress, you end up having to face multiple variations of these enemies at once, which can be very difficult and requires a lot of strategy and awareness on your part as your health will be drained quite quickly if you’re not careful.

Porkshank is a big, tough first boss but easily defeated once you master his simple attack patterns.

It’s a good job Battletoads has so much enemy variant and challenge involved in its combat since it’s surprisingly light on boss battles. The first boss you face, Porkshank, is a gigantic pig whom you fight three times in the first stage. The first encounter requires you to evade his combo of attacks, the second sees him try to charge at you head-first, and the third sees him split into two and do both attacks at the same time. While he can absorb a great deal of damage, as long as you dodge out of the way and charge up a Morph attack or quickly switch to Pimple, it’s pretty simple to get past him without any real trouble.

There’s more to defeating the Guardian than meets the eye…

The enormous Guardian boss requires a little more strategy on your past; the entire arena continuously fills with Blinkeys, pink eyes (hah!) that try to distract you from dragging the Summoner Eye out of its protective field. Each time you damage the Summoner Eye, the Guardian tries to crush you with its massive fists and then you have to smack a piece of debris into the gargantuan creature; the cycle then repeats twice more but with more Summoner Eyes to attack and more fists to damage.

Axeley is definitely one of the game’s more frustrating and troublesome bosses.

One of the game’s most difficult and frustrating bosses is Axeley, a crazed lumberjack who fills the arena with bombs that are very difficult to avoid before leaping into the arena and causing shockwaves with each impact. When his giant axe gets stuck, you can attack with extreme prejudice but, for his next two phases, he starts rolling logs at you that are extremely hard to jump over, tossing in more bombs, and performing far more jumping attacks to keep you constantly on guard while you wait for your brief window to attack. I would recommend using Zitz for the most part and keeping track of Axeley’s movements so you can switch to Pimple and get the most out of that brief window of opportunity.

Once you get past Dirtbag’s slew of projectiles, you’ll have to avoid the Dark Queen’s “helpful” tornados.

Dirtbag can also be quite the tricky encounter; like with Porkshanks, you’ll encounter him in a couple of different confrontations in the space shooting sections but the difference is that Dirtbag likes to attack with a variety of projectiles that you have to squeeze between and relentlessly fire at his ship while using your shield and evade to escape from harm. What makes this difficult is that you’ll most likely get to this boss with very little health left because of the gauntlet of enemies you have to blast through first and it seems like only parts of Dirtbag’s ship are vulnerable. Although you don’t actually fight against the Dark Queen this time around, she does actually help you in a penultimate battle before the final boss; her version of help, however, involves conjuring tornados that are just as likely to hurt or kill you as they are to toss enemies from the stage so be sure to stay away from them wherever possible.

Uto and Pia might be flamboyant but they’re no joke when you finally have to battle them!

The game’s final bosses are the Topians, Uto and Pia, essentially two intergalactic beings who stole the Dark Queen’s power and are practically Gods. When you fight them, they will take it in turns to launch attacks such as spherical projectiles that bounce across the arena and protect them and a giant laser beam that’s particularly difficult to avoid, turn invisible and intangible, and come crashing down onto the stage, all of which cause massive damage. Once they’re injured enough, they’ll team up for real for their final phase but, luckily, only one of their health bars needs to be whittled down. Still, I recommend taking advantage of the invincibility option that becomes available after a few deaths or when you’re close to failure.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
I mentioned this earlier but, strangely, there are no power-ups or weapons to pick up in Battletoads; while you can’t grab barrels (…or enemies) to throw around and there’s no score-increasing items, you do accrue a high score as you progress. Each fight that isn’t a boss battle receives a grade; the better your combo and the less hits you take, the higher your score becomes and, at the end of every stage, you receive a grade based on your performance and will earn an extra collectable if you manage to get at least an A ranking for every fight in each stage. When in the shooting stages, the scoring system continues but you can actually pick up power-ups that improve your ships weaponry for a limited time, turning it into a spread shot, a high-powered laser, or bolts of magenta energy to cause massive damage against your relentless enemies.

Additional Features:
Battletoads has sixty-one Achievements for you to earn; many of these are tied to the game’s story and can’t be missed but you’ll also get ones for defeating a number of enemies, breaking through their block attacks, finding collectables, or using your various toad abilities. Others are a little more obscure or challenging, like entering a button code in the credits, finding every collectable, or finishing the game on the highest difficulty. Of course, you can also play Battletoads with up to two friends; in co-op mode, you can revive your team mates when they’re defeated and you can go head-to-head to get the highest score but there’s not really anything on offer once you finish the game. You can play as a couple of different characters in the game’s story but they aren’t added to the roster for replays, there’s no one-on-one fighting mode, and no boss rush or skins to unlock, which is a shame since it would have been a good way to put the points you earn to good use to unlock classic 8- and 16-bit skins. You can, however, unlock a special Battletoads themed ship for Sea of Thieves (ibid, 2018) once you complete all of Act 1…so there’s that, I guess.

The Summary:
I was somewhat apprehensive going into Battletoads; I’ve played the original NES game on Rare Replay and couldn’t get past the Goddamn Clinger-Winger stage but I did have a lot of fun with the arcade version of the game. Thankfully, this version of Battletoads is much, much easier than its NES counterpart; I was worried Rare were going to pull a troll move on us and make a ridiculous frustrating throwback to that era of nigh-impossible videogames but, instead, they delivered an extremely enjoyable beat-‘em-up with just the right level of challenge and variety to keep things interesting. I was genuinely surprised at how much Battletoads had to offer; calling it a simple beat-‘em-up is probably doing the game a disservice and this may go a long way to explaining why many of the clichés and traditions of beat-‘em-ups are missing. It’s more like a combat-heavy action/platformer and it never lets any one mechanic last long enough to become monotonous or repetitive. While a lot of these gameplay mechanics might have been annoying and frustrating at times (that damn system reboot sequence, for example), once you’ve gotten past them you can focus on a different section that more than makes up for those challenging moments. Perhaps best of all, it makes the Turbo Tunnel actually doable and I never ran into a truly game-breaking roadblock; it’s a shame that there’s not more to it in terms on unlockables and stuff but I can forgive that for the more enjoyable aspects of the game.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

How did you find Battletoads? Which of the three Battletoads was your preferred character? What did you think to the game’s mechanics and presentation and how did you find it as a revival of the franchise? Are you a fan of the franchise and, if so, which game is your favourite? Did you find the original game as difficult as its reputation or were you able to clear it without any real difficulty? Which of the TMNT knock-offs was your favourite and would like to see more revivals of old franchises? Whatever your thoughts on Battletoads, or memories of the franchise, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Game Corner: Jet Force Gemini (Xbox One)

GameCorner
JetForceGeminiLogo

Released: August 2015
Originally Released: October 1999
Developer: Rare
Also Available For: Nintendo 64

The Background:
You wouldn’t really know it now but Rare were a big deal back in the nineties; they were responsible for the excellent Donkey Kong Country series (ibid, 1994 to 1996) on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) before taking home console gaming by storm with the renowned GoldenEye 007 (ibid, 1997), one of the few licensed videogames to not only be good but also one of the greatest first-person shooters (FPS) ever made thanks to its highly enjoyable split screen multiplayer. Following this, Rare ventured into the 3D action/platformer genre with Banjo-Kazooie (ibid, 1998), a whimsical collectathon that secured Rare’s places as one of Nintendo’s premier third-party developers.

JetForceGeminiLegacy
Rare had quite a history on the Nintendo 64.

During their time developing for the Nintendo 64, Rare were generally known for producing videogames that were either bright, colourful fantasy adventures; Conker’s Bad Fur Day (ibid, 2001) later turned this expectation on its head with its graphic violence and crude sense of humour but, before that, Rare deviated from this norm through Perfect Dark (ibid, 2000), GoldenEye 007’s spiritual successor, and Jet Force Gemini, both of which were darker, far moodier titles that veered into science-fiction and futuristic technology. Given how much I enjoyed Rare’s titles back in the day, I spent quite a bit of time with Jet Force Gemini on the Nintendo 64, either borrowing it from a friend or actually owning a copy for a brief period of time. One of the main reasons I chose the Xbox One over the PlayStation 4 was that console had the exclusive title Rare Replay (ibid, 2015), a compilation of thirty of Rare’s greatest hits over their many years, which contained, among many other gems, Jet Force Gemini. As I had never finished the game, and often struggled with it at certain points, this seemed like the perfect time to return to the game and put that loose end to rest once and for all.

The Plot:
After their entire fleet is wiped out by the insectoid armies of the villainous Mizar, the remaining members of the intergalactic law enforcement team Jet Force Gemini split up to infiltrate Mizar’s warships. In the course of their attempt to rendezvous at Mizar’s Palace, the team discover that Mizar has enslaved the bear-like Tribals and, when the fate of the galaxy and the team’s home world is threatened by Mizar’s wrath, the team resolve to defeat the alien’s forces and restore peace to the galaxy.

Gameplay:
Jet Force Gemini is a third-person action/adventure shooter with a heavy emphasis on exploration, backtracking, and some light (if frustrating) platforming and puzzle solving. When you start the game, you’re put in control of Juno, the male member of the titular team but soon rescue his female partner, Vela, and their mascot, the semi-cybernetic pooch Lupus. Functionally, each character controls the same, running and jumping around their environment and using a variety of weapons to blast away any insects that get in their way.

JetForceGeminiControls
The game’s controls are cumbersome, to say the least.

When you play Jet Force Gemini, the very first thing you should do is opt to switch to the new control scheme implemented into Rare Replay; without this, you may struggle to control your character, aiming reticule, and co-ordinate your inventory. I don’t remember this being a problem on the Nintendo 64 version but, in the absence of that system’s C-buttons, the default controls for Jet Force Gemini map the strafe and weapon selection to the right analogue stick, meaning you’ll often switch weapons when trying to strafe. This control scheme also makes precision aiming a tedious and pixel-perfect operation but both of these issues are largely remedied by switching to the duel analogue control scheme offered by the Xbox One version.

JetForceGeminiCamera
The game offers a jarring quasi-first-person perspective to aid with combat.

This doesn’t correct some of the games other control issues, though; as you explore, you’ll do so from a third-person perspective, which is where the controls become relatively tight and responsive but the camera is obsessed with staying locked behind your back, somewhat skewing your view when you’re trying to make difficult jumps. When enemies appear onscreen, the view switches to a pseudo-first-person perspective; at the press of the left bumper, your character become translucent, an aiming reticule appears onscreen, and you’re tasked with strafing behind cover and around your foes as you mow down enemies. The new control scheme makes this far more enjoyable but I still found this shift in perspective to be jarring every time it happens and that the game’s base controls don’t necessarily make moving and shooting the easiest task.

JetForceGeminiPlatforms
Platforming sections are made tricker thanks to some slippery controls.

For one thing, your characters control in a variation of the classic “tank controls” of early PlayStation and survival-horror videogames; you can travel in all eight directions and it seems as smooth as the controls in Banjo-Kazooie but this is a deception. For example, you’ll be running ahead at full speed and suddenly have to either make a right turn or turn around; your character then skids to a halt, sliding along the floor as they go, and either makes the turn in a wide arc or you’re forced to reverse backwards like a truck! The slipperiness of the characters is a major flaw; it’s great that Juno and Vela can grab onto ledges, which often saves you from plummeting to your death, but often you’ll fly right off an edge or a platform simply because the characters slip and slide all over the place.

JetForceGeminiPerspective
Jet Force Gemini‘s camera is a far cry from Banjo-Kazooie‘s.

The camera really doesn’t help matters; it’s completely out of your control unless you hold down the left bumper and entire the quasi-first-person mode, meaning you don’t have full 3600 control of the camera like in Banjo-Kazooie. As the camera is always seemingly zoomed in just a little bit too much and permanently lodged behind your character, this makes jumping across gaps or to floating platforms a massively annoying task as there’s never a good camera angle to judge your jump and there’s a significant delay in the characters’ jumps (not to mention the slipperiness and the way they kind of freak out a bit when they land from a jump).

JetForceGeminiCharacters
Each character can explore their environments in different ways.

Each of the three characters explores the environments a little differently and has access to different abilities: Juno can run through magma without issue, Vela can swim deep underwater (and, thankfully, has no need for air during these sections), and Lupus can hover for brief periods of time. Lupus can’t grab edges or duck but all three characters have a super jump (activated by simply holding down the jump button) and are able to find and use new weapons as they explore their surroundings. To progress through stages, you’ll generally have to unlock doors either by destroying all enemies in an area or using a coloured key. You’ll also encounter a number of non-playable characters (NPCs) who offer you additional items but only after you bring them something in return, forcing you to go off on a side quest to another world and run around in desperate circles as each of the characters trying to find what you need as, again, there’s no map or indication of where to go or what to do, forcing you to experiment with the three characters, different routes, or to consult a guide.

JetForceGeminiAmmo
Ammo is plentiful, which is good as you’ll burn through it pretty fast.

As for the weapons, you’ll be relieved to hear that there’s no need to reload in this game; ammo packs are in plentiful supply and often dropped by enemies, though you’ll be burning through some of your more effective ammunition as you mow down your enemies. This wouldn’t be so bad if the standard pistol had infinite ammo but it’s doesn’t; it also comes hampered with a power meter, of sorts, that keeps you from spamming the fire trigger over and over as the speed and power of your shots will decline the more you fire the gun until the bar refills. Each character’s health is represented by a glowing band in the bottom left of the screen; the band surrounds the logo of the team and drains as you take damage. You can replenish your health by collecting Gemini gems and expand your health by finding the appropriate items but, while you effectively have up to four health bars, you’ll find your health whittled away to nothing in short time when you’re ambushed by large groups of enemies if you don’t find cover or beat a hasty (if clunky) retreat. When you begin a stage, you’re given two continues; you can’t earn any additional continues but, if you exhaust them all, you do continue playing from the last auto-save point (and you can also manually save the game from the menu), which seems to make the continue system utterly redundant as you can just keep continuing as often as you need to.

JetForceGeminiMap
You’ll eventually be able to fast travel across the galaxy.

Jet Force Gemini begins in a very linear fashion; you can switch to Vela and Lupus after rescuing them from Mizar’s forces and each one makes their way through three different worlds before meeting up with their teammates at Mizar’s Palace. Once you fulfil this objective, the game opens up into a free play mode, of sorts, allowing any character to visit any world or location at any time. Unfortunately, you can’t switch to a character on the fly; when you select your character, the game forces you to sit through an unskippable cutscene of the character arriving and landing or docking at their location and you must begin the stage from the beginning.

JetForceGeminiExplore
It’s tough to properly explore the game’s vast worlds without an onscreen map.

Switching to a new location is easily done from the map screen in the game’s menu but, when you select a location, you’re forced to start from the beginning of the stage rather than jumping to one of the other points of the stage. Also, when you’re exploring a stage, there is no onscreen map or menu-accessible way to help guide you through and this becomes incredibly frustrating during the game’s later stages as a lot of areas in the game’s generally diverse stages look the same and it’s easy to get turned around, lost, or simply struggle to progress as you have no real idea of where you should be going. This becomes even more annoying when you’re forced to backtrack to every location with each character and hunt high and low for the missing spaceship parts you need to reach the final confrontation with Mizar; Rare never liked to hold your hand when it came to exploration but omitting a stage map was a real boneheaded move and makes the game more tedious and annoying than it needs to be.

JetForceGeminiTribals
To beat the game, you’ll need to rescue every one of these cute little bears.

During the free play portion of the game, you’ll have to revisit each location at least three times, once as each character, in order to locate new weapons, upgrades, story-progressing items and, of course, rescue all of the Tribals. As you explore stages, you’ll find these cute little critters scattered around, usually in your line of fire; touching them teleports them to safety and you must rescue every last one of them in order to complete the game. If a Tribal dies, you can continue playing and “simply” replay the stage to rescue them the next time around but, here’s the kicker; even if you’ve rescued Tribals, they still appear in the stage when you return, meaning that you never really feel as though you’re actually progressing with rescuing the little koalas. You can track your progress from the menu screen but, honestly, it isn’t very clear and I would have much preferred it if Tribals disappeared from the stages once they were rescued.

Graphics and Sound:
Jet Force Gemini has a very distinct visual style; ostensibly a sci-fi adventure, the game is filled with large, open areas, futuristic technology, and alien creatures. There’s a mish-mash of all kinds of scenery and styles in this game; one minute, you’ll be exploring a swamp-like world, the next you’ll be trapped in the large vertical halls of a spaceship, then you’ll be dropped into a vast desert or a desolate, metallic prison.

JetForceGeminiGraphics
Stages are both large but also cramped at times, with each having a distinct visual style.

Each world and location has its own look and feel though the gameplay mechanics are, largely, the same for each location; even on worlds filled with magma, Vela can find pools to dive into and Lupus will find gaps only he can cross, for example, and most locations task you with making some awkward jumps to desperately trying to navigate maze-like hallways and locations. While I am largely impressed with the size and scale of each of the game’s worlds, in many ways they are too big; a similar issue plagued Banjo-Tooie (ibid, 2000), which featured a large interconnected map that seemed both empty and full of life at the same time. The individual locations of Jet Force Gemini are more akin to somewhere between the size of Banjo-Kazooie’s stages and those of Banjo-Tooie, made even larger by the alternate paths the different characters can take, but some can feel far too monotonous thanks to all the areas looking the same and seeming far too big.

JetForceGeminiCutscenes
Sporadic cutscenes progress the game’s basic plot.

The game features a far more operatic and dramatic soundtrack compared to Rare’s other titles; a mixture of bombastic heroic themes, ominous, foreboding ambient sounds, and heart-pounding boss music all work really well to set the tone of the game but it feels a little more generic compared to the likes of Banjo-Kazooie. Jet Force Gemini also features a few unskippable cutscenes, many of which seem to be masking the game’s loading times; every time to return to an area, you have to sit through the same cutscene of your ship flying in and landing, which gets very annoying after a while. Cutscenes feature no voice acting, relying on text boxes to convey the story, and only a handful of characters speaking in the charming gibberish seen in the Banjo videogames, which is disappointing. The game’s presentation is bombastic and over-the-top (enemies explode in a shower of goo and limbs) but the plot is generally played entirely straight, with only the game’s wackier NPCs showcasing some of that quirky Rare humour.

Enemies and Bosses:
For all the diversity of its worlds and locations, Jet Force Gemini drops the ball a bit when it comes to enemy variety. No matter which location you visit, you’ll encounter the same enemies, with only slight variations depending on the stage you visit or the path you take. Mostly, you’ll come up against the generic blue drones who run around in a blind panic, blasting at you from behind cover and dropping in just a few hits, but you’ll also encounter a couple of variants on this enemy.

JetForceGeminiEnemies
Enemies aren’t especially varied but can have a lot of personality.

One of the more annoying variants are the shield-wielding drones, who constantly hide behind impenetrable shields and force you to either fight with the game’s controls and chase them down or strafe around them or use one of your more powerful weapons. Green drones usually adopt a sniper position to whittle your health down from up high and afar and the large, purple beetle-like enemies will either blast at you with rapid fire or explosive shells, and the red drones are far tougher and smarter. Despite the lack of variety, the enemies are surprisingly smart, ducking behind cover and running from your fire, and have a shocking amount of personality; sometimes, they’ll throw their weapons down and surrender, you can blast their weapons out of their claws and sending them into a panic, some drones will resort to tossing a grenade at you (often committing suicide in the process) or rushing at you head-first, and, if you land a headshot, you can blow their heads off and collect them to unlock bonus features.

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Damn annoying little laser-blasting robots will swarm you if you don’t act quickly.

Alongside these drones, you’ll also exchange fire with variety of flying, or floating, robots. These little bastards will float around in groups of anywhere from three to, like, thirty, either hovering in a swaying formation or swooping around in predictable, but annoying, attack patterns. Usually, you’ll fun head-first into ambushes of these robots, which can whittle your health away in a flurry of laser fire in no time at all, forcing you to back up or find cover and hope that you have enough machine gun ammo to blow the little bastards out of the sky.

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Bosses can be hard to hit thanks to the game’s janky controls.

As unfortunate as it is that Jet Force Gemini is lacking in enemy variety, it’s equally unfortunate that there aren’t many bosses on offer here. Luckily, the five bosses we get are gigantic and impressive in their scale but, regrettably, they’re generally more annoying than fun. To battle these bosses, you’re locked into a static area, able only to jump and strafe left and right to avoid incoming fire and their explosive (often cluster-based explosives) shots; the lack of cover and health in these battles is annoying and difficult enough but actually dealing damage to the bosses can be an issue in and of itself.

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These two assholes can go fuck themselves!

Easily the most annoying boss in the game are the Mechantids, two gigantic cybernetic praying mantises (Mantii? …Whatever) who dance around in the background and can only be attacked when they leap onto a platform closer to Lupus. When battling this boss, and the game’s other bosses, you’re given a very small window of opportunity to actually deal some damage; miss it, and your shot will either do nothing or careen off into the void and you’ll either take damage or have to try your luck in the next window. Given how slippery and awkward the game’s aiming mechanics are, this happens more often than not; seriously, I had this same issue in the poorly-implemented shooting sections of Banjo-Tooie and Conker’s Bad Fur Day and I still can’t understand how Rare, the guys who made GoldenEye 007, struggled so much to incorporate shooting and aiming mechanics into their later games or why they ever thought it’d be a good idea to put them into 3D action/platformers and it really makes these boss battles far more frustrating than they need to be.

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Mizar is easily the game’s toughest boss battle.

You’ll do battle with the game’s big bad, Mizar, twice in the course of the game; the first battle is more intimidating than it actually seems and can be easily won by simply blasting Mizar in the face with your tri-rocket launcher when he leaves his head exposed. Once you finally rescue all the Tribals and repair their ship, you’ll battle him again in the game’s toughest battle yet; the final boss battle has four phases, each made all the more difficult by the sheer number, power, and frequency of Mizar’s attacks and the lack of health, ammo, cover, and checkpoints. Oddly, considering the game is so focused on have three distinct characters, you only ever battle Mizar with Juno, which is super annoying as it would make this final battle much more bearable if you could switch between team members. Mizar’s only weak point in this final battle is a small piece of machinery fixed to his back; you have to weather a slew of asteroids that home in on you, dodge his claw attack, and then struggle to get your homing missiles locked in on this impossibly small target to get a few shots in, before desperately dodging his eye lasers, freezing breath, and damnable lightning attacks. Each time you deal damage to Mizar, these attacks increase in frequency until finally, he loses his wings and arms and starts blasting at you indiscriminately. Luckily, in this final phase, all you have to do is unload your tri-rockets and best weapons into his exposed head but that is very much dependant on you having enough health to survive to that point.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you explore Jet Force Gemini’s many locations, you’ll come across a number of collectables and upgrades; these aren’t quite as numerous as in some of Rare’s other titles and collectathons but they are still quite varied, for the most part. You’ll find glowing crates that contain new weapons, keys, or story-progressing items, Gemini gems and ammo crates are scattered across the locations alongside capacity-increasing backpacks and health-increasing power-ups, and you’ll also pick up Mizar Tokens to spend on replenishing your health or ammo at certain automated stations.

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Some weapons are better, and easier to use, than others.

The game features a wide variety of additional weapons to choose from: there’s the rapid-firing machine gun, the tri-rocket launcher, grenades, cluster bombs, shurikens, homing missiles, a chargeable plasma shotgun, and a sniper rifle, among others. Generally, though, I found myself relying on the basic pistol, machine gun, or tri-rocket launcher as the sniper rifle doesn’t mesh well with the game’s janky, slippery controls, the plasma shotgun is all-but-useless (even when fully charge), and the homing missiles are disappointingly weak. Also, I found I was more likely to toss a grenade right in my face due to the overly exuberant way they bounce around the areas, making them more of a liability than a viable weapon. It doesn’t help that your weapons only really do damage when the aiming reticule emits a lock-on beep, meaning you can literally toss grenades or fire rockets dead-on at enemies and have them do no damage at all because you didn’t get a direct lock on to the enemy.

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The team eventually acquire jetpacks, with Lupus even getting a little tank!

Once the three protagonists rendezvous at Mizar’s Palace, the Tribals upgrade their armour; while this doesn’t give them additional health and doesn’t seem to increase their durability, it not only places Lupus into a cute little tank but also allows them each to charge up a jetpack at fuel pads so they can reach new areas. Unfortunately, this can only be done at certain points, though, so you won’t be flying across entire gaps and stages with this mechanic.

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Mini games and multiplayer options are available, however ill-fitting.

The game’s action/shooting elements are offset by the inclusion of some racing mini games, none of which control anywhere near as well as Diddy Kong Racing (ibid, 1997), and a split screen multiplayer that is clunky and awkward and the furthest thing from GoldenEye 007’s generation-defining action. You also assemble a little robotic companion, Floyd, who can be controlled by a second player to help take out any enemies; this is super useful for when ammo is tight but I would have liked an auto-fire setting for those (long and lonely) times when you don’t have a friend around. Search hard enough and you’ll find Floyd pads that task you with flying and blasting through tight tunnels from a first-person perspective collecting items under a tight time limit as the cute little robot, earning medals, story-progressing items, and unlocking multiplayer options.

Additional Features:
As you explore your surroundings, you’ll collect Mizar Tokens, drone heads, and find hidden totem poles that, when activated, unlock additional skins for the game’s multiplayer mode. This is largely similar to the mode seen in Conker’s Bad Fur Day, offering a traditional deathmatch, king of the hill, and capture the flag style shooting arenas that ape those seen in GoldenEye 007. You can also take part in target shooting games and race against your friends but none of these multiplayer modes offer the same level of depth or fun as those seen in Rare’s earlier titles.

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A proper split screen co-op mode would have vastly improved the main campaign.

Honestly, Rare should have focused more on the co-operative aspects of the game. Floyd is great for a younger or inexperienced player but the game really should have been expanded to a full-on split screen co-op mode. The game is about team work, after all, and I imagine it would have been much more fun to explore stages as two of the three characters at the same time, uncovering secrets and rescuing Tribals that much faster.

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You’ll be perfoming a myriad of annoying little tasks to earn the game’s Achievements.

Playing the Xbox One version on Rare Replay also allows you to earn some of the most annoying Achievements ever, all for only 20 or 30G apiece. Some aren’t too bad; it’s likely you’ll acquire over 300 ant heads without too much issue as long as you remember to collect the severed heads when they fly off and you’ll easily mow down over a thousand enemies but rescuing every Tribal just to earn 20G is a bit of a piss-take. It’s honestly a shame that Rare didn’t put in a patch to address the Tribal issue; they patched in a new control scheme, after all, and it would have been nice to scrap the need to rescue every single Tribal. I mean, keep the Achievement for an added challenge but keeping this mechanic just drags the entire second half of the game down and ruins the lasting appeal of the game.

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The Summary:
Jet Force Gemini has a lot going for it; visually, it’s quite impressive, with a lot happening onscreen at once and some large, layered areas to explore. Unfortunately, it does feel like the game engine is taxing what the Nintendo 64 is capable of; the Xbox One version seems to run better but there’s still a lot of slowdown at times, obvious loading, and some graphical distortion at work. I could live with this if it wasn’t for the game’s dreadful controls and camera; similar issues dragged Banjo-Tooie and Conker’s Bad Fur Day down for me and it’s hard to really hold Jet Force Gemini in as high regard as Banjo-Kazooie when I’m constantly fighting with the slippery controls, taking ridiculous fall damage from the slightest of drops, and desperately trying to get the aiming reticule to go where I want it. It feels like, after seeing success with FPS and action/platformers, Rare decided to mash those two styles together for the majority of their subsequent releases and Jet Force Gemini was the first sign that Rare were planning on bogging down Banjo-Tooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day,­ and even Donkey Kong 64 (ibid, 1999) with unnecessary FPS and multiplayer elements. Jet Force Gemini’s controls just don’t really mesh well with these features and aspects; they struggle in the core single-player story until you finally get to grips with them and the game would have been much more enjoyable with a two-player, split screen co-op mode rather than awkwardly shoe-horning in traditional deathmatch multiplayer options. Yet, while it’s far from the quality of Banjo-Kazooie, GoldenEye 007, or even Perfect Dark, there is something about Jet Force Gemini that is appealing. When the game veers more into Rare’s trademark quirky humour, it’s a lot of fun; perhaps it would have been better to have the three playable characters have one distinct playstyle (Juno plays like an FPS, Vela as a 3D action/platformer, and Lupus is a racer/shooter) rather than trying to mash everything together. Unfortunately, it’s not like Rare really learned from this experience as they continued to mash other elements into their games and, generally, they just serve to distract from the more enjoyable elements of their titles.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think of Jet Force Gemini? Did you also struggle with the controls or did you not have as much of an issue as I did? What did you think of the game’s more mandatory issues, like rescuing the Tribals and finding all the ship parts? Where do you rate Jet Force Gemini on the list of top Nintendo 64 and/or Rare titles? Whatever you think, feel free to leave a comment below.

Game Corner: Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair (Xbox One)

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Released: October 2019
Developer: Playtonic Games
Also Available For: Nintendo Switch, PC, and PlayStation 4

The Background:
After Rare was purchased by Microsoft in 2002, anticipation was high for the company to continue their track record of releasing extremely polished, high-quality titles as they had during their tenure with Nintendo. Chief amongst the Rare properties most fans were looking forward to revisiting was the Banjo-Kazooie (1998 to 2008) series, which was an extremely well-made 3D action/platformer collectathon for the Nintendo 64 with a quirky sense of humour and memorable, likeable characters. Unfortunately, Rare were disappointingly underused by Microsoft and, while their famous bird-and-bear duo did return, it was in a highly altered form that let down most gamers. Eventually, key members of Rare left the company and formed Playtonic Games, an independent games studio that would allow them to make the types of games they wanted to which, coincidentally enough, meant going back to the Banjo-Kazooie formula with a spiritual successor to that series, Yooka-Laylee (ibid, 2017).

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Impossible Lair is inspired more by Donkey Kong Country than Banjo-Kazooie.

While the first game received mostly mixed reviews, I really enjoyed this welcome return to the quirky 3D action/platformers of old and revisiting the Banjo-Kazooie gameplay style of large, interconnected worlds with many peculiar characters and things to collect and discover. The game did well enough, however, and Playtonic’s new characters were popular enough to warrant the production of sequel, in which Playtonic Games decided to veer away from the Banjo-Kazooie style of gameplay and instead draw inspiration from the 2.5D sidescrolling platformers of their 16-Bit days, specifically the Donkey Kong Country (1994 to 2005) series. This was surprising to me, considering the series was meant to be a throwback to the Banjo-Kazooie formula, but I was happy enough with the first game and charmed enough by its oddball world and characters to give this slightly-revised sequel a fair shake of the stick.

The Plot:
After being defeated by Yooka and Laylee in the previous game, Capital B has returned to cause havoc; this time, he has enslaved the Royal Stingdom using the Hive Mind, captured Queen Phoebee’s Royal Beettalion, and locked himself inside the titular Impossible Lair. In order to overcome the Lair’s enemies and obstacles and defeat Capital B, Yooka and Laylee must travel to numerous new worlds and free the Royal Battalion, all while restoring peace and order to the Royal Stingdom.

Gameplay:
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is, primarily, a 2.5D action/platformer in the style of the Donkey Kong Country series; players control Yooka, a laid-back chameleon, and Laylee, a wise-cracking bat, simultaneously to explore the large overworld, traverse the game’s numerous stages, and battle the assortment of quirky enemies found within.

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Many of the duo’s abilities return from the first game.

Many of Yooka and Laylee’s abilities from the previous game return here; the duo can run, jump, and roll along in a ball like a certain blue hedgehog. Yooka can use his tongue to grab at certain objects to spit fruit or bombs at enemies or switches or open new pathways and secret areas and the duo can flutter and twirl in the air to extend the reach of their jumps or perform a powerful downward stomp to defeat enemies or drop down to lower levels.

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While other abilities are sadly missed, you can unlock others using Quills.

Unfortunately, the duo are missing some of their more useful abilities from the last game; you can only spit out projectiles when you find one in a level, and you can no longer turn invisible, walk while in water, or form a protective shield. While the game does provide alternative means to do some of these moves, there is no way to use Laylee to glide, fly, or have Yooka use his tail for a high jump. Instead, you’re tasked with chaining together high-speed rushes with well-timed jumps to gain extra height and cover large distances, which is fine but I can’t help but feel it’s a missed opportunity to not have the duo flying at some point in some way.

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Get hit and you’ll lose Laylee, leaving you vulnerable until you find a bell to call her back.

Also missing from the first game is a health and power bar; you no longer need to consume butterflies to restore your health or wait for a meter to fill up before you can perform one of the duo’s special moves. Instead, when you get hit by an enemy or obstacle, Laylee will fly erratically around the screen for several seconds like Baby Mario in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (Nintendo EAD, 1995). If you can’t retrieve her in time, she will fly away and you’ll be left with just Yooka and missing the few moves the game provided you with; take another hit and you’ll die and be returned to your last checkpoint, with Laylee restored to you. You can, however, find special bells you can ring that will return Laylee to your side and use certain Tonics to extend the length of time you have to retrieve Laylee but, honestly, of all the things to be inspired by! Luckily, Laylee doesn’t whine and cry in an annoying screech like Baby Mario but it can be extremely harrowing and dangerous to retrieve Laylee but, if you don’t you might miss certain collectables and secret areas.

YookaImpCoinsWalls
Collect the T.W.I.T. coins to lower Trowzer’s Paywalls.

To explore the game’s forty stages, you’ll have to navigate an expansive overworld; while nothing compared to the one from the first game, it’s still surprisingly expansive, with many areas connected to others through secret pathways or blocked off by one of Trowzer’s Paywalls. As you explore the game’s stages, you can find five T.W.I.T. coins in each; it is highly recommended that you go out of your way to obtain as many of these as you can as you’ll need to use them to lower Trowzer’s Paywalls and reach new areas and to obtain an Achievement.

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Use Pagie Power to alter the overworld and access new areas.

Each stage is accessed through a magical book, as in the last game, but rather than expanding upon a stage with the Quills you find in the game’s stages, you use these Quills to purchase Tonics and gain new abilities or game-changing buffs (or de-buffs) or to pay for a hint to locate hidden Tonics on the overworld. You can manipulate and alter the overworld, however, by completing a mini game set by a Pagie found in each area; doing this allows you to find new areas (and more hidden Tonics) and open up new paths to link the overworld together.

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Completing side quests adds an alternative mode to each stage.

Some of Yooka-Laylee’s other recognisable characters also make a return but in severely reduced roles; they generally hang around the overworld, offering hints or asking you to complete a series of small tasks that will access a stage’s alternative mode. These tasks this many involve freezing Nimbo the Cloud, pushing a shopping trolley off a lighthouse, causing a boiler to cough up ash, or activating a fan. Each task is slightly different and changes the stages in different ways; the stage may be flipped upside down or on its side, for example, or underwater, frozen, or filled with acid or lava. This means each stage has two sections to it for a total of ten T.W.I.T. coins per chapter and altering a stage can turn even the game’s easiest levels into challenging test of your patience and endurance.

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Track down the Ghost Quills for extra Quills, coins, and items.

Each stage also sees the return of the five Ghost Writer Quills; each one flies around the immediate area in a different way, leaving regular Quills in their wake, and generally explode in a shower of Quills once you collect all their Quills or chase them down. Others, however, leave behind a T.W.I.T. coin, a piece of fruit or a bomb to aid your progress, or a key that can access a new area of the stage and lead you to another T.W.I.T. coin. You never know what the Ghost Quills are going to yield as a prize so it’s worth trying to hunt them down and collect their Quills whenever you find them. Every time you clear a stage, you rescue a member of the Beettalion, which is crucial to increasing your chances at completing the Impossible Lair. Unlike the last game (and most games, for that matter), you can challenge the game’s final stage, the titular Impossible Lair, whenever you like but, if you have few or even no Beettalions to aid you, you won’t last very long as the Lair isn’t called “Impossible” for fun. Some stages also contain hidden exits that deposit you in different areas of the overworld and lead you to one of the six secret members of the Beettalion and it is highly recommended that you don’t attempt the Impossible Lair without all forty-eight members of the Beettalion to form a protective shield around you.

Graphics and Sound:
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is just as gorgeous as its predecessor, perhaps even more so thanks to its extra polish and shine. The world and the characters that inhabit it are bright, colourful, and cheery; playing the game is like playing a cartoon and all the characters are full of life and charm. Thanks to the game’s shifted perspective to 2.5D, the character animations rely far more on pantomime than fully-animated 3D models, meaning the game’s simple animations are far less egregious.

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Characters still talk in that delightful gibberish.

Thankfully, the game still uses the charming gibberish of the Banjo-Kazooie series; whenever characters talk, they babble and jabber away like loons and I absolutely love it. Just a few sounds is all it takes to infuse these characters with personality and you always know who is talking and when thanks to these simple, but effectively, sound effects.

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The game looks and sounds fantastic, at least.

The music is just as delightful and affective as ever as well; thanks to the likes of the great Grant Kirkhope, the game’s overworld, stages, and areas are infused with a fairytale-like quality and, no matter how frustrating and difficult some sections might be, you’ll always have a catchy, appealing little tune to hum along to and settle your nerves.

Enemies and Bosses:
Yooka and Laylee’s world is mostly populated by mean-spirited little goblins called Meanyions; you’ll come up against blue versions that simple wander back and forth, red ones that you can only defeat by jumping on them, yellow ones that jump when you jump, and green ones that hover around in a jetpack or with propellers on their heads (which protect them from your jump attack).

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The game’s hazards are more deadly than the enemies could ever be.

There are also fatter, blob-like Boundalong Meanyions who bounce you backwards (usually to your death), the spider-like Webwhacks that can only be avoided thanks to their spiked behinds, cannons that blast projectiles or homing missiles at you, and laser-spewing spheres. Generally, though, you’ll find most the most danger and frustration coming from the many death traps in the game’s stages; giant instant-death boulders, laser beams, and saw blades chase you, spikes, icicles, saw blades, and other spiked surfaces can either cause you to take damage or instantly die, acid and lava pits are abundant and, of course, there are the numerous bottomless pits scattered across the stages. A lot of the game’s challenge comes from using the duo’s skills and carefully bouncing from one enemy to another to clear these gaps; make a mistake and you’ll pay, usually with your life.

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The game only has one boss but he’s hidden within the game’s hardest area yet!

The game only features one boss battle and it’s against Capital B within the Impossible Lair. You might think that this means the game is lacking in challenge but you’d be wrong; not only do you have to first get through the game’s stages to unlock enough (or all) of the Beettalions to allow you to get through the Lair’s many enemies and death traps, you then have to face Capital B in four separate, increasingly difficult encounters.

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Getting through the Impossible Lair is easier said than done…!

This wouldn’t be so bad but, to reach each of these battles, you first have to survive the Impossible Lair…which more than lives up to its name. Every type of enemy, trap, obstacle, and gameplay mechanic you’ve encountered and bested in each of the game’s stages is incorporated into the Lair; every time you take a hit or fall to your death, you lose one of the Beettalion and there’s no way to get them back. You can return to the Lair from the start of each battle with Capital B but this only really helps if you reached that fight with a decent amount of bees left and can defeat that phase of the boss battle without incurring much damage so you have the best chance of getting through the next stage of the Lair.

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Capital B can be tough but getting to him is even tougher!

Thankfully, actually fighting Capital B is much easier than in the last game; he has very clear and predictable attack patterns but it’s very easy to mess up and take a hit in these fights thanks to the lack of a high jump and the surprisingly large hit box of both the titular duo and the boss itself. Add to that the fact that he Impossible Lair is more frustrating than challenging and you have a significant portion of the game that is more of a chore to get through than being fun and charming like the rest of the game. If you really want to torture yourself, you can take on the Lair’s alternative mode, where you must try and make it through without any of the Beettalion to protect and save you…and if you can do that then good luck to you; you’re a better person than me.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Like the Banjo-Kazooie games of old, and its predecessor, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a bit of a collectathon; each stage is filled with Quills to collect, T.W.I.T. coins to find, and hidden areas that generally contain one, or both, of these items. Clear a stage and you rescue a member of the Beettalion and can use the Quills and coins you’ve earned to unlock new skills and areas of the game. The Tonics from the last game return here; Tonics are scattered across the overworld and, while some are in plain sight, others are hidden and you’ll have to pay sign posts for hints on how to find them. Either way, simply finding a Tonic isn’t enough to use it; you have to pay for it with the Quills you’ve collected, meaning you’ll have to revisit some of the game’s easier stages again and again to farm for Quills to unlock every Tonic.

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Different Tonics have different effects, buffs, and de-buffs.

At first, you can only use three Tonics at a time but, eventually, you earn the ability to have a fourth Tonic slot (either temporarily or permanently, if you find every single T.W.I.T. coin in the game. You have to be careful, though, as some of the more useful Tonics (like increasing the amount of checkpoints, letting you hold on to your T.W.I.T. coins after you die, or having special attacks that destroy all onscreen enemies) reduces your Quill count at the end of a stage. So, to get more Quills, you have to use the more obtrusive Tonics (which turn the stage upside down or mess up the controls, for example) but, no matter how you play the game and which Tonics you use, they’re completely redundant in the Impossible Lair as you can’t use any of them…which really makes you question why you put all that effort into finding and unlocking all of them in the first place.

Additional Features:
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is full of Achievements to earn; you get one for saving certain amount of bees and finding certain secrets but also for finding all the T.W.I.T. coins and, of course, there’s one for beating the Impossible Lair without any bees…so I won’t be getting that one any time soon.The Tonics can help to spice up the game and add some replayability to the stages; you can alter the art style and colour scheme to resemble the Nintendo 64 or the Game Boy, slow down time, and alter other elements to increase (or decrease) your chances to somewhat customise the difficulty of the stages. There is also some downloadable content on offer for the game but it mostly boils down to more Tonics at this point rather than adding new game modes or levels to extend the game’s story and playtime.

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The Summary:
I really like the Yooka-Laylee series; I feel it’s a great spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country series at a time when Microsoft seems perfectly happy to let the bear-and-bird disappear into obscurity. Both games have their flaws, of course; being independently created, largely crowdfunded videogames will do that so some compromises are expected but none of that changes the fact that this series is keeping alive a gameplay style that seems to be dying out these days. Unfortunately, for everything that is good about this game, it is let down by the titular Impossible Lair. I have no problem with testing my skills and being faced with a challenge but the Impossible Lair is such a kick in the ass that it sucks all the fun and enjoyment out of the game’s biggest selling point. This almost makes all of the previous stages and achievements you’ve accomplished redundant; you can’t use any of the Tonics, you can’t collect or replenish the bees once you take a hit, and it’s so easy to slip up and drain all of your bees that, generally, it’s easier to simply quit out and try again than reach Capital B without enough of the Beettalion to make it worth pushing forward. It’s not that the game isn’t fun and there aren’t things to like about it; the graphics and music and controls are, generally, top notch and the game is full of the quirky charm the Banjo-Kazooie series was famous for. But the Impossible Lair lives up to its name maybe too much; I feel the developers were maybe being a bit too clever in piling on the difficulty and precision platforming for this stage and it makes the game more of a chore to get through in its final stages rather than being a fun experience from start to finish.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair? Are you a fan of these characters and their games? Did you have any problems with the Impossible Lair or were you able to beat it without too much difficulty? Which of Rare’s platformers was your favourite back in the day? Would you like to see Banjo and Kazooie get another shot, perhaps even alongside Yooka and Laylee? Whatever you think about the Yooka-Laylee games, feel free to leave a comment below.

Game Corner: Yooka-Laylee (Xbox One)

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How powerful is nostalgia? That is the question Yooka-Laylee (Playtonic Games/Team17, 2017) poses. The spiritual successor to one of the greatest 3D platrformers/collect-a-thons ever, and one of my personal favourite videogames, Banjo-Kazooie (Rare, 1998), Yooka-Laylee once again throws players into a vibrant world full of colourful, squawking characters but, released some twenty years after Banjo’s heyday, is it enough to satisfy modern gamers? Obviously, this is a question many have debated and answered long before I got around to playing Yooka-Laylee and, if you listen to those opinions, you’ll largely hear a sense of apathy, disappointment, and frustrating with some of Yooka-Laylee’s design choices and gameplay mechanics. It amuses me, however, to imagine the same people who criticised Yooka-Laylee’s gameplay are probably some of the same people who were disappointed that Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (ibid, 2008) was just a kart-constructor and not a fully-fledged 3D platformer. But then, as I’ve always said, you can’t please everyone. Luckily, my needs are far simpler: all I wanted was a throwback to all the things I loved about the Banjo games on modern consoles and, in that sense, Yooka-Laylee delivered.

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Yooka and Laylee must search high and low for their missing Pagies.

Rather than the classic bird and bird duo of yesteryear, Yooka-Laylee sees players taking control of the titular Yooka (a green lizard capable of rolling, attacking with his tail, and spitting fire, ice, and grenades) and Laylee (a purple bat who allows a degree of flight and whose sonar highlights secrets and acts as a protective shield) who must fight against the minions of the nefarious Capital B, who plans to use a magical book to take control of the world. Yooka and Laylee happen to be in possession of the book and, when its pages are scattered across various worlds, they take it upon themselves to journey far and wide to collect the missing Pagies and put an end to Capital B’s plans. The world of Yooka-Laylee is both familiar and new; boosted by the power of modern consoles, Yooka and Laylee are able to traverse diverse worlds that are tall, deep, and wide, with numerous side quests, hidden treasures, and additional content that keeps them busy. Worlds are accessed from the game’s central hub, Hivory Towers: Yooka and Laylee can jump into Grand Tomes and enter any of the game’s five worlds, each with a familiar theme (ice, space, casino, etc).

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Yooka-Laylee‘s worlds have many hidden secrets.

Once they have collected a certain number of Pagies, players have the option of using some of their Pagies to expand each world, opening up new areas and, in some cases, adding entirely new sections to existing worlds where more collectables can be found. In order to reach Capital B, players have to collect a set number of Pagies but, in order to complete the game fully, players must find all 145 Pagies, each of which is protected by either a boss battle, a puzzle of some sorts, mandatory on-rails kart sections, races, and retro-style arcade games. Players can also find and collect various other objects; Quills can be collected to purchase new moves from Trowzer, a shady sales-snake (and finding all 1010 is necessary to obtaining every Pagie), Power Extenders extend your power meter and allow you to use the duos abilities for longer, butterflies can be eaten to restore health and your power meter and there are Health Extenders to get an extra hit point, and five hidden pieces of pirate treasure are also hidden within each world.

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You can purchase new moves and abilities.

To assist with their exploring and collecting, players can access a wide variety of moves upon their purchase. Eventually, players will be able to fly, turn invisible, absorb the properties of beehives to access new areas (eating fire-flies to light dark areas, for example), and even encase themselves in a bubble to walk underwater. Completing certain objective will also allow players to assign one of Vendi’s tonics, which all grant the duo certain buffs (such as an extra hit point, a faster regenerating power meter, or removing damage from falls).

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A variety of wacky transformations are at your disposal.

Furthermore, Dr. Puzz can be found in each world and will transform Yooka and Laylee into a variety of other forms, similar to Mumbo-Jumbo in Banjo-Kazooie. Players can become a plant, a snowplough, a helicopter, a swarm of piranha, and an adorable little pirate ship; each transformation allows players to solve puzzles and earn new Pagies as well as access other areas of their respective world. Yooka and Laylee also have to contend with a boss battle in each world, each more ridiculous than the last (they range from a giant ice block and a lovesick, anthropomorphic asteroid). While most of these aren’t particularly difficult and can be bested with a combination of skill, memorisation, and having enough health and power, some can be quite tricky and frustrating, with the final boss battle in particular proving quite the headache. Similar to the final confrontations with Gruntilda in the Banjo games, Capital B takes numerous forms and requires the uses of all of Yooka and Laylee’s skills to win the day.

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Even Shovel Knight shows up. How indy is that!?

One of the criticisms I heard about this game long before finally getting it was that the worlds are perhaps too large and too sparsely populated and, in truth, it feels like there could have been ten very distinct worlds instead of five that are extended further and basically force the player to remain in each one for extended periods of time with little reprieve. However, each world is alive with gorgeous, colourful characters and locations; they stretch far up, deep down, and right across and each one has so much to see, do, and explore. The downside to this is that there is so much ground to cover and so many areas and sub areas in each world that it can be difficult to know where to go, where things are, and how to proceed. This is a good thing, in that the game doesn’t hand-hold the player, but it does make finding the game’s many collectables (especially those damn Quills) very difficult and frustrating, especially when you have searched every square inch numerous times. However, each world has a lot packed into it and their own unique theme; players will find themselves completing a variety of mini games in capital Cashino, for instance, in exchange for coins that can be further exchanged for Pagies but, in Moodymaze Marsh, have to traverse a murky swamp filled with spiked plants.

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Seriously, screw this guy and his damn kart sections!

Playing Yooka-Laylee is, mostly, a breeze; Pagies can be found and collected without too much difficulty but, if you want to get everything in the game, you’re going to have to endure some frustrating sections. Kartos, the anthropomorphic kart, can be found in each world and beating one of his increasingly-difficult on-rails kart sections is mandatory for earning all Pagies. Similarly, Rextro the Dinosaur’s arcade-style mini games must be beaten twice to earn two Pagies; these are nice, fun distractions but can be annoying to have to play due to the controls, janky hit boxes, and equally-janky controls. It’s nothing you can’t get through with time and patience, though, and adds some variety, if nothing else.

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There’s lots to see, do, and collect. What more could you want?

Honestly, it annoys me that Yooka-Laylee wasn’t more praised upon its release. Sure, there could be a lot more available in the game, but for a crowd-funded, independently-produced title, it has a lot going for it and is more than a worthy successor to Banjo-Kazooie. I would love to see the Platronics guys get folded back in to Rare and a true Banjo-Kazooie sequel be produced but, until then, Yooka-Laylee scratches that particular itch quite nicely with its large worlds, gorgeous visuals, fun gameplay, biting wit, and some brilliant new tunes from Grant Kirkhope. In the end, nostalgia was powerful indeed, certainly enough for me to have a great time with this fun little throwback to an era sadly neglected in modern day videogames.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Game Corner: Conker’s Bad Fur Day (Xbox One)

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Similar to Banjo-Tooie (Rare, 2000), Conker’s Bad Fur Day (Rare, 2001) is an action-platformer originally released near the end of the Nintendo 64’s lifespan that I had planned on picking up back when it first came out but, due to a combination of having no money and other priorities at the time, I was never able to. I remember borrowing a copy and briefly playing it but nothing concrete; since then, I had trawled Amazon and eBay to try and find a copy, only to find it reaching extortionate prices as one of the rarest and most expensive Nintendo 64 titles even in an unboxed state. In 2005, Microsoft released a prettied-up remake for the Xbox 360 which I planned to get once I bought the Xbox One. Luckily for me, however, the title was including in the Rare Replay (Microsoft Studios/Rare, 2015) collection and, after sixteen years of waiting and anticipation, I was finally able to play this elusive title with high hopes of an experience comparable to that of its predecessors, Banjo-Kazooie (Rare, 1998) and Banjo-Tooie.

Boy, was I disappointed.

In Conker’s Bad Fur Day, you assume control of an anthropomorphic, beer-drinking red squirrel named Conker who, after a particularly bad night of drinking and debauchery, attempts to stumble home to his girlfriend, Berri. However, the Panther King’s side table is missing a leg and his lackey, Professor Von Kriplesac, suggests using a red squirrel as a substitute; thus, Conker is not only beset by the Panther King’s minions but also a series of increasingly daft missions and side quests, and the search for wads of cash that are dotted about the land. Although the overworld and scope of the game feels smaller than Banjo-Tooie, the concept is similar; Conker traverses a large overworld, which provides access to a number of sub-worlds, in which he must complete a number of side quests and missions to be awarded with cash. Once Conker has accumulated enough cash, he can access other worlds and the game expands further. Each world allows Conker to perform new actions and afford him different abilities, but he cannot carry these over into another world (for instance, in one world, Conker wields a shotgun to dispatch zombies, but he cannot use this weapon in the overworld or in other areas). There are also numerous times throughout the game when Conker can utilise a context-sensitive pad to open up new areas or reach the ever-elusive cash.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day utilises a life system, which is a bit of a step back from Banjo-Tooie, which gave the player unlimited lives. Conker has to grab squirrel tails in order to gain extra tries at beating the game but, once they run out, it’s game over and you have to start again from the last save point. Conker’s health is measured in segments of chocolate, which can be found dotted around every level of the game. However, this is where the game’s most glaring issue lies; Conker is probably the weakest videogame protagonist ever. Conker takes damage when he falls from anything higher than a couple of steps (meaning that a fall from a great height will result in instant death more often than not), chocolate segments are few and far between, and there’s no way to expand or enhance his life bar. There are numerous times when Conker either takes double damage or dies instantly from one shot, making the game feel very cheap and frustrating as it’s not so much a question of player skill and more the fact that Conker is so incredibly weak, especially compared to Banjo and Kazooie.

Conker’s basic controls are fluid and smooth; Conker runs, jumps, swims, and can hover in the air by spinning his tail like a helicopter all with the same grace and poise you expect from a Rare title. Conker’s main enemies whenever he is performing these basic platforming actions are the camera, which swings around wildly and is oddly intrusive, and the fact that Conker can easily slip from paths and walkways; without the ability to grab ledges, it’s far too easy to fall to your doom. However, it’s when you gain access to his additional abilities where the game’s flaws begin to really rear their head. When Conker receives the aforementioned shotgun, you have a choice between using it from a third-person perspective (which makes it difficult to aim) or from a first-person viewpoint (where the controls are reversed, slow, and clunky). Similar to the forced first-person shooting segments from Banjo-Tooie, any time Conker has to use guns really brings the game down and makes for some of the most frustrating parts of the game; Conker reloads too slowly, has terrible aim, and the shooting is annoyingly bad from a company that perfected first-person shooting in GoldenEye 007 (Rare, 1997) and utilised a far better third-person shooting mechanic in Jet Force Gemini (Rare, 1999). Honesty, I expected much better from Rare after they proved they can do first- and third-person shooting and action platforming a lot better in their previous titles. The fact that all these elements are so poorly implemented in this game really makes it difficult to play through and to enjoy.

However, Conker’s Bad Fur Day has many elements that are enjoyable; the game looks and sounds amazing, with some of the wackiest and strangest anthropomorphic characters you’ll ever encounter (Conker encounters a talking pot of paint, an opera-singing giant turd, mafia weasels, and battles a Xenomorph, amongst other things). Heading into this game, I was fully aware of its mature content; blood bursts from enemies as they are blown apart, characters swear every other word, and the game definitely isn’t taking itself seriously at all. To my surprise, Conker isn’t actually the foul-mouthed character I expected heading into the game; he’s a drunkard (the opening moments have you controlling him as he stumbles about and pees everywhere) and a greedy little git (he attacks wads of cash with a frying pain and stuffs them down his shorts with reckless abandon) but it’s actually the other characters he meets that swear and provide most of the mature content.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day is also, to its detriment, an oxymoron; the game has a lot of variety but also way too much repetition. So, one minute you might be gunning down wasps, rolling balls of poo into a giant turd mountain, or retrieving objects to fulfil your missions but you can guarantee that if you have to do these things once you’ll have to do them again, anywhere from three to five times. It gets extremely frustrating to have to repeat these actions so many times, especially while fighting the controls; for example, in the first level, Conker has to find some cheese for a mouse. You have to find three pieces of cheese and each one has to be collected separately and also find five bees to pollinate a sunflower (which you later have to use to bounce to a wad of cash but good luck getting the timing of the bouncing right and, when you do get the timing right, the controls fight you so you miss the ledge and fall from a height high enough to cause you significant damage!)

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Seriously, this damn sunflower took me the better part of forty minutes to get past!

Similarly, there’s a part where you have to scare some cows into pooping to access a new area. To do this, you have to trick a bull into hitting a target, jump on the bull, and scare the cow. Once it’s pooped, you kill the cow and another waddles out, and you have to repeat this again twice more. There’s an even worse task in the Rock Solid disco. Conker has to get drunk, stagger around, and pee on a rock monster so it turns into a ball, then roll it into an opening. You then have to roll it along a narrow path, hope you don’t fall off, and onto a switch to rescue Berri. You then have to do this twice more and, if you don’t get enough pee on the rock monsters, they pop up and attack you. Things like this are so incredibly tedious and laborious tasks that get old and frustrating very quickly. Later on, Conker gets transformed into a vampire bat and must poop on some villages to stun them and then carry them to a meat grinder. The controls make all this extremely difficult and annoying to pull off, especially considering how often you have to repeat the task. Things only get worse in the It’s War! Chapter; in a parody of Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, 1998), Conker joins the war against the Nazi-like Tediz. While this makes for some of the game’s most amusing and controversial moments, it is also host to easily the absolute worst part of not only this game, but maybe any game I’ve ever played.

After defeating the boss, Conker has a limited time to navigate through tight corridors full of laser trip wires; if you touch the wires, explosives go off and cost Conker at least two pieces of health. At various points, Tediz will also attack Conker with bayonets, forcing you to switch to the awkward first- or third-person shooting perspectives to attack them. Once you make it through these obstacles, though, you get locked in a room full of Tediz who start shooting at you; you get about two seconds to whip out a bazooka before you’re blown to pieces. The only way to succeed is to try and try and try again and again to master the trip wires and the Tediz in the corridor so you get through flawlessly and have all of your health for this final shoot-out to give you a gnat’s wing of a chance to positioning yourself properly to shoot all the Tediz. There’s no health in this areas, no chance for error, oh, and, also, if you shoot your bazooka too haphazardly then you’ll blow yourself up!

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Good luck getting through this crap without the fifty-lives code!

However, for every bad part of the game, there are positives; the boss battles are amusing and interesting, the worlds are full of life an activity (although there’s far less to collect than in the Banjo games), and the storyline is very funny and tongue-in-cheek. Ironically, though, the final area and final boss is perhaps the easiest part of the game. In a shocking twist, Berri is killed before Conker’s eyes and a Xenomorph bursts out of the Panther King. Conker has to (clunkily) beat the Xenomorph down and then throw it into an airlock (three times, naturally…). As the Xenomorphs moves in for the kill, the game locks up; Conker breaks the forth wall to get the programmers to help him out and wins the day, but forgets to get Berri brought back to life. Conker ends up being crowned the new king and sits, disenchanted and annoyed, surrounded by the characters he has helped out throughout his little quest (all of whom he hates). Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a beautiful and challenging game…but it’s so damn frustrating and annoying! I don’t mind a challenge but this game takes it to another level! There is absolutely no hand-holding and no quarter given; this would be fine if the controls and camera didn’t work against you all the time and if Conker wasn’t so weak. I wouldn’t mind repeating some of the tasks you have to do if they were actually fun by the third time; once, maybe, but having to repeat some many laborious tasks really gets annoying very quickly. The boss battles are all multi-layered and challenging, though a lot easier than the platforming and puzzle-solving aspects of the game. The humour is crude, rude, and hilarious at certain points; it’s obvious that Rare were having a lot of fun just pushing the envelope and doing whatever they wanted in this title.

However, it also feels like they’re openly mocking the player and purposely implanting terrible gameplay mechanics; that must be the case as I know they can do better action platformers, better first person shooters, and better third person shooters. The game also has a tacked on multi-player component which involves these shooting aspects, however I’ve not played it and have no urge to given how bad the controls are for these parts of the game. And that’s the summary of it all, really; I have no urge or desire to ever play this game again, and that’s really disappointing to me. I loved the Banjo games and everything they did; I love a good, bright, fun action platformer and I’m all for variety and trying now things…but this game just has far too many negative points for me to ever hold it in as high regard as I do Banjo-Kazooie or even Banjo-Tooie, which is a massive personal disappointment for me.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Game Corner: Banjo-Tooie (Xbox One)

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To reach Gruntilda, Banjo and Kazooie had to traverse a variety of worlds and collect a multitude of items, the most important of which were Jiggies – which were required to access new worlds and climb higher up Gruntilda’s castle. The game was a huge success for Rare, heralding a number of successes for the company on the Nintendo 64, and has been a personal favourite of mine for nearly a decade now for its charming aesthetics, catching music, amusing characters, and vibrant worlds.

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One of gaming’s most unique duos.

Back in 1998, Rare developed an incredibly intricate and amusing platform videogame called Banjo-Kazooie. The game starred a slightly slow, but very helpful, honey bear named Banjo, who first featured in Diddy Kong Racing in 1997. Banjo, humorously garbed in bright yellow short-shorts, carried around his friend and counterpart – a Breegull named Kazooie – in a blue back-pack. Together, the two were tasked with rescuing Banjo’s kid sister, Tooty, from the evil witch Gruntilda, aided along the way by Bottles, a short-sighted mole who teaches the two their attacks and abilities, and Mumbo-Jumbo, a shaman who transforms the duo into other forms to aid their quest. In 2000, Rare finally produced a sequel, Banjo-Tooie, which was released near the end of the Nintendo 64’s lifespan and has consequently become one of the rarest and most expensive videogames around, even when bought unboxed. As a result, obtaining a copy has been a goal of mine for years, ever since I briefly played it in 2001, and in 2013 I was finally able to procure a copy and play the game through to completion. Of course, since then, the title (alongside the original and many of Rare’s top titles from the area, before, and beyond) was given a high-definition remaster that I later picked up as part of Rare Replay for Xbox One.

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Grunty is back and out for revenge!

Banjo-Tooie picks up two years after Gruntilda’s defeat. Trapped underneath a giant boulder, she summons her sisters, Mingella and Blobbbelda, to free her so she can avenge her defeat. Now little more than a skeleton, she destroys Banjo’s house, killing Bottles, and prepares a special ray gun that will suck the life out of the planet and restore her physical form. Eager for another adventure and desiring revenge for he death of Bottles, Banjo and Kazooie head out to travel new worlds and put the witch to rest once and more all. The first thing to note about Banjo-Tooie is how much bigger it is than its predecessor. Not only can players run around Spiral Mountain (the tutorial area from the first game) and re-enter the mouth of Gruntilda’s Castle, the player can explore and travel through an all-new overworld that is intricately connected to the playable levels in the game. For instance, rather than opening up worlds to enter in a central hub as in the previous game, the players go from one hub to the next following the path of Gruntilda’s digging machine through a huge overworld. Whilst exploring each level, the player can open up shortcuts to other levels, the most obvious being Chuffy the Train, but other sluiceways, tunnels, and paths also exist which connect one world to the next and allow players to traverse what now feels like an entire world rather than an enclosed space.

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Jamjars has some new moves to teach Banjo and Kazooie.

The main aim of the game is still to collect loads of items, but the actual task is much less tedious. Previously, the player was awarded for collecting each world’s 100 musical notes, but the number you collected reset every time you left a world and re-entered it. Now, the number carries over, and they are a lot easier to find and collect. Jiggies, however, are found in a multitude of ways, as before, with each world now being home to a formidable boss battle which will test Banjo and Kazooie’s new skills. Speaking of which, Bottles’ brother, Jamjars, is on hand to teach the duo additional moves. While Banjo and Kazooie are capable of every move from the last game bar one (Banjo’s bear swipes are absent), Jamjars loads the player up with a variety of new eggs to shoot at enemies (which becomes a focal point in the game during its many first-person-shooter sequences), the ever-handy Grip Grab that allows Banjo to hang on to ledges, and the ability to have Banjo and Kazooie separate from each other to tackle switch-based puzzles. Mumbo now becomes a secondary character, as players use his magic to access unreachable areas and acquire Jiggies, while Humba Wumba’s spells are used to turn the duo into new forms, which are new required for a multitude of Jiggy-based tasks and even to conquer certain bosses.

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Banjo-Tooie has many secrets and collectables.

One of the greatest things about Banjo-Kazooie was its many secrets, most of which were meant to be accessed in Banjo-Tooie through a unique “Stop and Swap” feature that, theoretically, would have seen players swap one cart for another to unlock new content. Though this feature was eventually dropped, the ever-mysterious Ice Key and Secret Eggs return in this game, now used to unlock new moves and the awesome Dragon Kazooie, though the full extent of this feature would not be made accessible until the Xbox 360 HD remixes. Banjo-Tooie also features a multiplayer mode, allowing for up to four players to take part in Goldeneye 007-like deathmatches and other modes that, honestly, I haven’t played but I imagine are similar to the same multiplayer modes seen in Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Like The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Banjo-Tooie features many recycled characters and character models, as characters encountered in the previous game return to aid or hinder the duo at various points.

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It’s all about the story…except when it’s not…

In the end, playing Banjo-Tooie was an awesome experience, but a couple of things let it down for me. Firstly, why remove Banjo’s bear swipes? This seems like a nit-pick, but I expected Banjo to have the attack when he goes solo and he never acquires it, meaning that he is limited to his Pack Whack move. Second, when you acquire a Jiggy, Banjo and Kazooie no longer go into a cute little celebration animation; the Jiggy is simply collected and you move on. While I don’t necessarily mind this, as the lack of the celebration means you don’t get any wasted momentum, it kind of makes acquiring Jiggies mean a lot less as the characters no longer seem to care. Next, the game takes a long time to get started – the opening cutscene is quite long and, at various points at the game’s beginning, the action cuts to a cutscene that shows Gruntilda’s plan in motion. Then you never hear anything of her plot until the final boss, which is pretty jarring – Gruntilda uses her restoration ray once and you never hear anything of it again, so the threat seems diminished and an afterthought by the conclusion. You also never confront her two sisters, which seemed a given, though the addition of a boss for each level kind of made up for that.

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There’s a bunch of new transformations to play around with.

Certain other aspects are a bit tedious as well; before, when you tried to exit a level as a transformed Banjo and Kazooie, Mumbo’s magic would automatically wear off. Here though, you must return to Wumba to transform back into the duo to exit – similarly, Mumbo and either character alone cannot exit levels and must switch back to do so, which can get a bit tedious. There’s a ton of backtracking in this game, which can be frustrating but it’s great to see how characters and events in one level can affect and influence the other, so I didn’t mind this too much and it didn’t really feel like it was padding the game out, more that the world was big and interconnected, so backtracking is more like a given. Also, in comparison to the first game, the ending felt a little limp and the overall game time seemed less – I finished the entire game in just under 25 hours, whereas I remember working on Banjo-Kazooie for a long time, but that may have just been rooting around for more secrets and such.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

In the end, the game is a masterful example of how to make a great action/platform title – colourful worlds, great music, amusing characters, loads (and loads) to do, see, and collect, great controls (flying and swimming can be a bit testy, as before, however), and a pretty simple premise. Games like this aren’t really made much anymore – once you beat videogames these days, there’s not much incentive to pick up and play again, but in the Banjo titles there’s always more to do. As the Nintendo 64 copy is quite expensive, I recommended Xbox owners download both titles (or purchase Rare Replay) and play them to death and think themselves lucky to be able to experience the full games.